Review: Lauren Calve’s Debut ‘Shift’ Inspires Praise From Her Peers

Lauren Calve
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

There aren’t many Americana artists who get respect from high-profile names like Rhett Miller, Kathy Mattea, and others before their first album is even released. But Lauren Calve, who has recorded a few EPs prior to this, is worthy of flattering words like these from Ray Wylie Hubbard who gushes “Lauren tears off pieces of soul, rhymes them and shares them with a voice that is righteously cool.”

That’s some serious praise, especially from a grizzled veteran like Hubbard who has been exposed to plenty of talented musicians. But Calve justifies that admiration on these ten stirring tracks finding her fronting an incredible band that helps bring her alternately roots rocking and pensive melodies to life. 

As the disc’s title and opening track imply, the songs are tied loosely together by Calve’s ability to understand and adapt to the various shifts—age, economic, romantic—that occur in her, and everyone else’s lives. Will it take me or break me under its weight? Or will I take it and break away? she sings as a slowly pumping drum thumps behind her like a heartbeat and guitars soar, then dive, with the dramatic yet earthy sweep of the best Tom Petty material.  

It’s little surprise that two of her supporting musicians played extensively with Sheryl Crow (guitarist Audley Freed and bassist Robert Kearns) because Calve has the same firm grasp on pop rocking melodies and even some similar vocal inflections as Crow.  Ballads such as the ringing “Subtle Alchemy” and the softer, more ominous bass-driven “Plug Me In,” the latter a treatise on how the creative mind and our reliance on technology are linked, allow Calve’s voice and lyrics to dovetail over sympathetic instrumental work.

Tunes like the pensive “When I’m Gone” float, soar, and hover as Calve’s sharp lyrics and backing guitars jell behind her alternately lilting and driving voice.

As she admits in pre-release notes, there may be a few too many slow songs. But Calve blends them with the occasional rocker or, in the case of the closing “Deep in the Hollow,” tough, sinuous, creeping mixes that engulf the listener. On the latter, she explores the beginning of the end of a long relationship (This August we’re built to hold/Hot bodies in four cottage walls/Sweaty in love) with weighty but unaffected introspection.

Kudos also to Dex Green who, in his several roles– as co-producer and songwriter (with Calve), mixer, audio engineer, occasional bassist, and guitarist– makes these songs sound vibrant and organic. It’s as if they were captured live in the studio. Considering the limited budget for this indie project, that’s impressive. It helps Calve’s striking songs emerge out of the speakers full and alive, making this one of the most notable debut recordings this year and worthy of the advanced acclaim from her peers. 

Photo by Sarah Danelli

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